Sunday, July 09, 2006


On Little Boys and Manners

Yesterday's announcement of my fear and loathing of packs of small boys aside, I must say that the most polite person at the party was one of the little boys.

Him: Excuse me, Dad? No, um, Eleanor's Dad?
Eleanor: His name is Ben.
Him: OK, excuse me mister Ben?
Eleanor: No, just Ben.
Him: Aaah, hi, um, Uncle Ben? (by this point he was thoroughly anxious)
Ben: No, just Ben. Really. It's ok. What do you need?

So sweet. Most kids call adults by their first names now, and I don't mind at all. I don't think that the use of an honorific or lack thereof has anything to do with respect. Even my daughter calls me Janice quite a lot of the time. I do a double-take if someone calls me Mrs. C. You see, that's my mother-in-law, even though she's remarried and that isn't her name any more. (I'm also usually startled if someone calls me Janice, as I'm used to Bunnie or The Bunnie or Rabbitch or Bun -- But Never Ever "Jan" Upon Pain of Messy Death -- even from my husband.)

The only time I insist on being Mrs. C is when people I don't know call me up and try to be all buddies while also either trying to sell me something or collect money of some sort from me. The only other time I hear it is when I'm visiting my lovely Irish Gentleman of a surgeon, who has never once presumed to call me by my first name, even though he's seen my boobs at least half a dozen times.

It was really refreshing to meet a kid who didn't just assume he could do so, and was in fact hesitant about it.

He's told his parents that Eleanor is "his favourite girl". I believe I shall put him on the very short list (only two so far) of "Boys Who Will be Allowed to Call On the Princess When She Is Older And If She Doesn't Become A Nun or A Lesbian".

And now ... back to the dye pot. Yes, at 4am. I'm not well.

I grew up calling adults Mr. This or Mrs. That. First names were NEVER an option. When I met my husband's family and family friends, I was a little alarmed at all the first names bandied about by the 'children' (who were of course all in high school or college at this point). Old habits die hard, I guess. I just kept waiting for someone to say to me, "Oh, call me Ruth (or Gail, or Margaret, or whatever)." I got funny looks when I said Mrs. T--, but no one ever actually gave me permission to use first names, so it took all of my courage to skip past that part and drop the Mr. or Mrs. At 30, I seem to be over this little dilemma, but when I first started teaching, it felt so weird to call teachers and the principal by their frist names, and also to have kids calling me Mrs. B--.

The boy in your story is utterly charming, by the way! What a sweetie.
I was raised to always call me mr or mrs/miss etc. It would drive me crazy when someone asked not to be called it and called by their first name! When I met my boyfriends mom (I was 18) it was very difficult to call her by her first name because she was a mom! Also her last name was different from her sons so when I did call her mrs I ushually called her the wrong one. Now 7 years later i try to call her by her first name but it weirds me out! It would be like me calling my mom by her first name!!
First names are good enough for me, but only if I'm asked to use their 1st names or that's how someone is introduced to me. I told my grandchildren to call me Grammy Rhonda... 'coz these days, they have more than 2 grandmothers AND I changed my last name once already :) less confussing to use my 1st name with Grammy proceeding it of course. Everybody else can call me Rhonda or "StitchingNut", LOL.
I am *SO* with you on the "don't call me Jan" thing. The only people who ever got away with calling me Jan were my piano teacher (she started when I was 8 and I was too young to correct her) and one of the customers I had when I worked for IBM.

Janice (not Jan) in GA
I've noticed that most of the children here (my son and your daughters ages) call adults 'Sir' or 'Ma'am" rather than by their names. My son also calls all of my MIL's frieds "Miss SoAndSo" instead of their first names alone because she felt it was improper since he's a child and they are adults. Its all so confusing.
I grew up in the '60's calling my parents' friends and my friends' parents (mostly all the same people!) by their first names. There was a little confusion about the grown-up friends who were also teachers -- they were called Mr. or Mrs. or Miss at school, but by their first names at other times. And my friends' grandparents were always "grandpa" and "grandma." It wasn't until I got to college that I realized this wasn't always the norm.

I am also never "Jan." That's not my name!
I always call folks that I don't know Mr. or Ms. whatever. I also use sir and ma'am more than most. Especially at work. It's like drawing that line in the sand that I will not cross and don't think that you are crossing it either.
I was raised a military brat, so I've got the congenital sir and ma'am all the time. If you're over 2, that's what you get.

But I'm also a Janice who can't stand that, and want to be called "Jan". My family members are the only ones who call me Janice, except the doctor's office.
I have always used Honorifics. I never feel comfortable otherwise unless I am friends with the person (eg I like my boyfriend's mum or it's a customer I love having in my shop). I remember my ex's grandfather whom while I didn't hate him by any means I certainly didn't like him. Pointed out at a family dinner that I kept calling him "Sir" and by all means I should feel free to call him Jim, Rev. Jim, Grandpa Jim, whatever I was most comfortable with. It was pretty much the entertainment of the evening for the ex's whole family when I pointed out that I was more comfortable with Sir.

Flash forward to now where I have a guy best friend, (whom my mother keeps calling her son-in-law) I know his parents very well and like them. Not overly comfortable calling them by thier first names (at first) I just called them "Mrs. Ian's Mom and Mr Ian's Dad". This was also the source of some amusement (this time I was included not the butt of and how nice is that?) for thier part they call me Pam. My real name is Debbie. It's just a thing we do.
Oh goodness...I've loved and read your blog for a good while now, and have been provoked to comment by the hysterics that overcame me when I read about the two boys allowed to call on your daughter. You should tell his parents that! Hilarious, so so funny. Thanks for that :)
Too funny. We have the kids in our neighborhood way confused because my oldest two children have their father's last name, and I have a new married name. So I'm either Mrs. OldName or Mrs. NewName and I just tell them anymore to call me Miss Elaine. So much less silly.
My parents make us say yes sir, no sir and yes ma'am , no ma'am all the time. We get in major trouble if we don't use sir and ma'am when speaking to adults. Some of my friends pick on me because I have to say yes sir and yes maam to my elders. I guess some parents are cool and don't make their kids use sir and ma'am but that is not how it works at my house.
Tim R.
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